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Hard family truths

Some people pass on learned violence while many others turn their world around

By Carolyn Pogue

This blog is difficult to write and may be to read. You may wonder why in the la de dah happy summer days I would chose to explore this topic. But this season is the best one because afterward, we can go outside, lift our eyes to the summer sky, rest our backs against a comforting tree or walk into forgiving water. Earth is the place to restore our souls, and during summer, not even a parka separates us from this healing energy.

Last week, a friend disclosed that an adult family member had molested a young family member — long ago — repeatedly. This kind of news shatters us. The young and vulnerable must rely on protection, wisdom and guidance from adults. But this child received none of that from her trusted adult relative. As a result, my friend experienced a tsunami of bewilderment, rage, sorrow and shame. I’ve heard similar stories from other friends. I’ve heard far too many searing testimonies at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings, too.  

After sitting with my friend, I visited the library, looking for some lovely summer reading. I chanced upon Zak Ebrahim’s The Terrorist’s Son: A Story of Choice. Oh. Not such light reading after all. Zak is the son of El-Sayyid Nosair, a murderer and one of the minds behind the World Trade Centre bombing in 1993. At the time, Zak was 10 years old. It’s a slim book, but maybe it needs to be. It is one young man’s story, not a whole analysis of terrorism.

A few days later, Joy Kogawa, the Canadian poet and author who first gained prominence with her brilliant novel, Obasan, appeared on CBC News. She was featured because her father was a sexual predator of youngsters in his care at a Japanese Internment Camp during WWII. A priest, he had written to the Anglican Church on his deathbed 20 years ago in order to confess. But the church had not responded or sought to learn how his victims fared until now.

Kogawa’s 1995 acclaimed novel, The Rain Ascends, tells the story of a middle-aged daughter devoted to her priest-father. She discovers that her dad has abused small boys all his life. This book is a struggle for redemption and forgiveness — the struggle many of us share in looking at the bare truth of our families, pubic institutions, sports teams, religious communities, community groups and, indeed, our country.

There is an old saying that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. It means that children turn out like their parents. But not all apples fall the same way. Some roll down hills or are tossed by the wind. Some are gathered to become sustenance for loving people.

In the Bible, we read that “the sins of the father will be visited on the son.” If we understand this to mean that at some point, the next generation will need to deal with the brokenness of the previous generation, it makes good sense. (We see this not only personally, but in global issues, such as the lack of action on environmental protection or rampant child poverty.)

I know people who have learned a hard family truth and have become healers, loving parents or good teachers, themselves. We all know people like this; we may be one, ourselves. Of course, some of us pass on learned violence while many others turn their world around. It must take tremendous courage, not to mention grace, determination, a listener, several tries and maybe a helping hand at the right time.

For now, though, I'm going outside to sit in a grove of willows and give thanks for living in a time and place where it is acceptable and right to tell the truth.

Author's photo
Carolyn Pogue is a longtime Observer contributor. New posts of The Pogue Blog will appear on the first and third Thursday of the month. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..
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